Do NOT Do This~

*This is a public service announcement from the world of widowhood*

Don’t do it. Don’t be a widow. There is no lonelier feeling in the world than being alone in the world without your person. It blitzes your world into pieces. Emotionally. Physically. Financially. Logistically. Practically. Holistically.

I realize you don’t actually have a choice about widowhood; if you’re one of a couple, one of you will live this. But I’m telling you; it will suck the very life from your bones, it will shred your heart…unless a ridged metal glove with spikes on it rips it from your chest first, and then slams it to the ground and hacks at it with a rusty axe blade, before putting it back in your chest along with a meat slicer that…oh, yay…works REALLY well, with really sharp blades, and continually slices away inside of you.  And this is after counseling and therapy and yoga and meditation and every other thing you can think of.

And you’ll be alone in the world. Even though you will have people (hopefully). But people have their own lives, which is right and good and proper and as it should be. What that means for you, however, is that your heart and chest will fill with words with nobody to hear them (unless you talk to yourself, but it isn’t the same, is it?). And you’ll go to bed alone every night, possibly in a bed but oftentimes on a couch even if you have a bed because the back of the couch at your back somehow feels more secure. You might wear a shirt of his, even though it no longer bears his scent. You might rest your head upon his pillow, and try to feel a connection to him by doing that. You don’t really, but you pretend that you do.

You’ll sleep restlessly through the night, waking and sleeping on a repeat cycle, and then wake up alone in the morning to face a day that might be very busy, or it might be filled with shit to keep busy..it really doesn’t make a difference; you still breathe his absence no matter what you do.

People might think, but not say so because they’ve gotten smart enough not to, but you kind of feel the unspoken words, that you’re a bit unbalanced because they just don’t get what this shit does to a life. And they might think that you’re just feeling mighty sorry for yourself because you actually ‘fess up to the reality of what widowhood really is and you refuse to lie about it, but hey, people will think whatever they think. But you aren’t crazy. Your life was incinerated, is all, and you just can’t seem to get your shit together, no matter what you fucking do, no matter how much you fucking try. Not because you’re incompetent. Not because of anything, really. And you don’t feel sorry for yourself; you just feel shell-shocked as you look at the world around you and realize that you recognize nothing in it. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, people WILL get it. They might even ask you about your world and what it feels like in it.

And you might wish that people who have only known you as a widow, when you’re not near the person you were… might have known you when you laughed freely and felt passionate about life, and words tripped from you and there was a lightness of being about you and you were clever and had a great sense of humor and oh, boy, did you smile a LOT every day, and remember how you loved to dance? ..but they never will, so the only woman they know seems, in their estimation, just a bit off her rocker and, hey, is it safe for her to be around kids? and you just have to let that go because that woman you were is as dead as he is. And I guess maybe you DO seem crazy and unreliable even though you are more reliable than ever because of, you know, all the shit…but, you know…whatever.

So, all of which is to say….don’t be a widow. I don’t recommend it at all.

*end of public service announcement*

Slow Dance. Last Dance.

I first wrote this blog in 2014, just a couple days before Valentines Day, a few days more before our 24 wedding anniversary.  It holds as true today as it did then..

So, here I am, writing my first blog right before Valentine’s Day.  Right before what would have been our 24th wedding anniversary. I’m getting ahead of myself, I know. I was going to introduce myself, give some back-story, and I promise I will.  But maybe, because of the timing of this first entry, I’ll give you a glimpse into the world that was mine with my beloved husband, let you peek through the keyhole so you can understand the missing-ness of him in my life.  This, dear ones, is the memory I carry with me in my heart and soul.  The only memory, really, that I can easily call to mind. (Why is that?)

As I remember him, and me, and our full-time travels of the last 4 years, this Death Valley dance lingers in the nooks and crannies of my heart.  Exploring Death Valley National Park in California was a dream of ours, and for 3 days we drove up and down the Valley, exploring the muted colors of the Canyons. Chuck was already sick and in pain; we thought it was the die-off from a fungal infection.  We thought it was a pinched nerve.  So this last day was taken slowly.  He’d managed a short hike back into the rocks.  Our last hike, but we didn’t know it then.  All we knew was that it was getting late, he was tired, and it was time we returned to our ranch cabin.

But, as I steered the car over the road to the ranch, looking at the changing colors of the rocks around me, my instinct told me that here was a memory that we needed to imprint on our hearts.  I’m relieved now that I listened to that instinct that made me maneuver the car to the dirt on the side of the road and say to him “Let’s dance”.  We loved to slow dance, and Chuck was a master at it.  He wasn’t quite sure of the footing on the rutted ground but I said let’s do it anyways.  And he smiled and got out of the car.
 
It was that most beautiful part of the evening that the Scots call “the gloaming”.  The quiet moment when the day is done but right before full dark sets in.  Silence surrounded us as I met him in front of our Ford Escape.  The strains of “You’re My Inspiration” by Chicago wafted from my IPOD.  Our song.  He put his right arm around my waist and clasped my right hand in his left, wrapping his fingers around mine.  In spite of everything, his body was strong against me.
 
And on the side of the road, there in Death Valley, in the setting sun, we danced what would be our last dance.  

Chuck’s romantic heart met my even more romantic heart and we kept that passion alive for the 24 years we were together.  This Valentine’s Day is my first without him.  Our 24th wedding anniversary is the 18th.  I don’t know if any one particular day is more painful than another because right now every day is filled with immeasurable pain.  I miss him kissing me and holding me and dancing with me and loving me and that slow wink at me from across a room. 
 
I miss him with every beat of my heart, with every painful breath that keeps me living without him. 529438_552029828185289_1995679461_n

Do it NOW. Seriously

In 2015, in my second year of widowhood, I went to Camp Widow.  Never heard of it?  It is a weekend sponsored by Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation, bringing men and women together in Tampa, FL, and San Diego, CA, for workshops and connections with other widow/ers  from around the world.  The speakers are exceptional, sharing their experience, strength and hope, and it all wraps up with a ball on Saturday evening, where men and women whose lives have incinerated around them with the death of their person, dance madly on the dance floor, music blaring.

The year I attended, there were roughly 150 people attending Camp Widow, and it took my breath away to see the number of young widows; women whose husbands were healthy young men, now left to raise their children on their own. Young men, whose wives had died way too soon…

Men and women, with the median age probably in their 40’s and 50’s. Men and women who carry grief in their hearts, desperately missing the one they shared their lives with, the one they loved, who loved them, reaching out to offer Love to one another, to hold each other up, to hold hands and share hugs, to listen without judgement, to bear witness to the stories each person carried.  The woman who started SSLF is Michele Neff Hernandez, now a remarried widow, who sought, after her own experience, to reach out to others.  That’s what life is all about, right?

I wrote the following piece after my first Camp Widow, and it holds just as true now as it did then.  This is what was in my heart, and is in my heart still, after witnessing this phenomenal weekend…

And so you know what I have to say to all of you out there in the world who still have your husbands and wives and partners?

Forget the bullshit. Stop being so fucking busy that you don’t pay attention to each other and your relationship.  If you’re in the habit of being a bitch to your husband and bashing him when you get with other women, knock that shit off.  If you’re a man and in the habit of complaining about the old ball and chain, stop being an asshole.  If all you do is gripe at one another and speak disrespectfully and condescendingly to one another, knock that shit off too.  Even if you think you’re doing it in fun. Ever hear the phrase passive/aggressive? And do you know how fucking blessed you are to still have your husband or wife? Do you?

Don’t just grab them and hug them; drag your husband, your wife, your partner, off to the bedroom and have mad, crazy sex like its the last time for you.  Smile at one another.  Kiss each other for a minimum of 30 seconds; no peck on the cheek!  Kiss consciously! Make your partner your priority. Over and above your kids. THEY’RE the ones who will be with you after the kids are grown and off to their own lives.

Become conscious of each other and your relationship.  Every minute.  Be aware of all you can do for each other, big and small, to show your love. Fucking talk to each other about what made you fall in love in the first place. Talk about your lives together and what you mean to each other.

Chuck’s death is the most devastating, excruciatingly painful thing I have ever experienced, bar none (and I’ve had numerous deaths in my life). And guess what?  One day either you or your partner will be standing exactly where I am. So make what you have count NOW.  Not tomorrow, not next week, not “Oh, I should schedule him/her in”.  That’s bullshit.  NOW is the time.

Because one of you, at a time hopefully far into the future, but really at any time, is going to be staring down at their beloved face in a coffin, the same way I did with Chuck, and your heart is going to break and you don’t want to have any regrets.

Tough for you to read this? It pales in comparison to what its like to live it~photo

2 AM and Trying to Shut Off my Brain~

When does this change?  The missing-ness?  Does the emptiness ever fill up?

I know that there are no solid answers for my questions but they invade my brain during my days and in the middle of the night.

Sleeping with my arms wrapped around a soft pillow, trying to find some comfort in the feel of something, anything, pressed to my body. Does the longing ever leave?

Resting my head on his pillow that has traveled with me for the 100,000 miles since his death.  If I put my head where his was, will I feel closer to him?

The urn with his cremains stand behind his trifold flag, on the pillow next to me on whatever bed I sleep. In my trailer, they stand guard on the bench next to where my head rests.  My fingers curl around the flag.  I remember those moments as the Honor Guard Captain approached me and I ordered my knees not to buckle.  Will the curl of my fingers around his flag remind me of the curl of his fingers around mine?

The jacket from his BDUs, hanging on the back of the seat in my pink car: if I put that jacket around my shoulders, will I feel the crispness of it against my cheek from long ago years when he hugged me upon his return from the base?

His blue denim shirt: if I stare at it long enough, hanging from the back of the door, will the memory of him wearing his favorite shirt as we hiked, as he drove, as we wandered the country for 4 years, bring me consolation enough to ease my heart?

The sapphire and diamond bracelet that he gave me for Valentine’s Day one year early in our marriage: if I wear it around my wrist every day and night, will he feel closer to me as I remember the day he gave it to me?

His ID tags from active duty: if I wear them around my neck, dangling on the same chain he used, will his name etch itself visibly upon my chest, showing the world that I was always his and always will be?

The words of counsel that I offer to our kids, to our friends, that oftentimes come out his words rather than mine: if I say those words enough, in the tone and cadence of the way he said them, will I become him eventually?

If I have to live decades of time without him, will I become more him as I strive to remember him, and less me, or will I meld into a person who is two people now one?

As the months become years and the years become decades, will my memory of him fade until he is a shadowy part of my life, existing in a world that may not have even been real?

There is so much I can’t remember.  Or is it that I remember it but I don’t feel the memory?  I want to feel the memory desperately but is that even possible now that he is gone?  Is feeling the memory dependent upon feeling him in the here and now?

If my muscles hurt and my skin feels the hunger of no longer feeling his touch, is that good memory or bad memory?  Is it better to at least have some memory, even such as this, or no memory at all, so that it doesn’t hurt?

There isn’t enough busyness in the world to keep these questions and ramblings at bay.

And then I wonder if there will ever be a time when questions such as these will be laid to rest…

Sigh….

Love’s Guiding Force~

Today is the 21 anniversary of my brother Kysa’s death.  January 26, 1996.  Two decades plus one year.

I sat with him as he transitioned and was with him when he died.  It was the first time I’d ever been with anyone who died and it was a very physical process for him. None of it freaked me out, really, as much as it left me in awe and wonder.  What I was privileged to witness gave me a glimpse into what I believed was a world beyond ours; it was enough to leave me shaken for years as I strove to make sense of it and find a place for it in my life.

In the month before Kysa died, family and friends sent lengths of colorful cloth to wrap him in for cremation.  My brother-in-law made a sturdy and lovely oak body board for him.  We were all very hands on in his last hours, talking to him, moistening his chapped lips with ice cubes, wiping his brow, drumming softly with animal skin drums and fanning him with feathers.

I felt like a cheerleader as he died, quietly encouraging him to relax into what was happening.  Near the very end, as he choked and the death rattle took over, I found myself chanting go Kysa you’re almost there keep going as if I was cheering him to a finish line.  And indeed, that’s how it felt.  It felt like I walked right up to the veil between this world and the next and pulled it back aside and then stepped back, because this was his time, not mine.  And as I gazed upon his quiet body, relaxed against the sheets, I felt, of all things, pride.  Pride in him, that he’d won some invisible marathon and was now beyond the veil, hands triumphantly raised in the air.

We, all of our nearby family, went with him to be cremated.  We held a service over his body on the gurney, tucked flowers into his shroud, murmured blessings, quoted poems, and then stepped outside to give his widow her time with him. 792143_10152488276805441_1728747169_o

It was the most powerful moment of my life.

Until Chuck died.

What we did with Chuck in hospice, how we tended him and loved him, and the way we cared for him as he lay dying, the way we bathed him ourselves, and dressed him, then shrouded him with soft blankets…supported his body as they lifted him to the gurney to take him away, went with him to be cremated, covered him with flowers, tucked notes into his shroud…the Love that guided my finger to press the switch that opened the doors of the crematorium…the grace that held me up as I heard the loud swoosh of the flames…

I knew to do what I did for Chuck because we’d done it for my brother all those many years ago.  Because of Kysa I knew to challenge the narrow parameters of thinking that I might otherwise have had.  Our homage to my brother opened my heart to light and Love.  What I learned at his bedside in 1996 remained in my soul and as I watched my beloved husband die, as I gazed upon his still body after a death that was unbearable to witness, I knew that what I did and how I did it was only about Love, not about fear.  All that determined how I and our daughter and Chuck’s daughter did what we did was the law of Love.  Tending the body of my husband after death couldn’t be left to strangers, as careful as they might be.

In those moments after he died, I remembered Chuck’s words to his doctors after the many surgeries resulting from his first cancer a year and a half earlier.  His left arm and right thigh from knee to hip looked like hamburger from grafting of skin and blood vessels and muscle tissue.  The bandages required twice daily renewal and the dr. wished to set him up with a visiting nurse.  Chuck thanked him and refused, telling him that he was sure they’d do a good job but I would do better because you see, Dr. my wife loves me and that makes all the difference in the world.  Mind you, I’d never done such a thing before and was most definitely not a nurse.  But Chuck was right.  I loved him and it was a service I could do for him. Did for him. With Love. 043

Which is precisely how I felt when he went into hospice in April 2013 and died 3 weeks later.  I looked at the man I loved lying on that bed, his breath forever stilled and knew that no stranger could care for him in the same way I could.  And in my mind I saw him smile at me as I dipped a clean cloth in the warm, soapy water and began washing him, and then dressed him in street clothes again because I knew he hated the hospital gown and, finally, wrapped him in colorful blankets.  A week later I gently pressed the switch to open the doors to admit his body into the flames and turn his beloved body into ash. photo

My brother Kysa in 1996 and what I learned from being with him as he died empowered me to do the same, and more, with my beloved husband Chuck after his death, many years later.

Love gives me the power to do all that needs doing and it opens my heart to possibilities and deeds never imagined.  Love is all that matters.  collage

Life in the Hood…

I’ve grieved before.  My brother and my mom died within 6 months of one another, back in 1996.  It knocked me senseless for…hmm…4 years or so?

After the first year I volunteered at a local hospice and sought out one training after another, getting certified in various aspects of grief and crisis response and compassion fatigue.  Which led me to training that allowed me to facilitate bereavement groups for the community.

I knew shit, you know?  Ask me a question about grief and the impact of grief and the many ways people grieve and I could tell you shit that would make a difference in your life. I have stacks of notes and testimonials citing the many ways I helped people.

And then Chuck died.

BAM!

I don’t know shit about grief.  Or rather, I know a shit load of stuff about grief and what I know doesn’t make a damn bit of difference to how I’m grieving and I question my sanity as much as any newbie and I feel the same disconnect between my heart and head as many in my groups expressed to me in their time.

I don’t know shit.

And I depend upon my friends in the bereavement field to tell me naw, you ain’t crazy. You’re grieving.  Make sure you hydrate.  Remind yourself to breathe effectively.  Call me when you think you’re crazy and I’ll listen.

Even more so I depend upon my widowed community.  Those people get it. Big time.  I’ve met numerous widows who fucking rock their widowhood.  Not because they’ve gotten it all figured out but because they are so open and vulnerable about it and with it.  Which I admire to the nth degree.  Honesty also makes a person vulnerable to judgement and criticism, of course, and cries of oh you must be positive you must flip that switch so that you’re happy instead of sad you are choosing this way of reacting…and blah blah blah.

Life in the hood, as my son laughingly called it and I loved that he laughed when he said it, is fucking hard.  I’m beyond blessed that I have a strong, supportive, community around me for the most part.  And by that I don’t mean people who yes me to death how fucking boring that would be but people who understand that there is a difference a ginormous difference, between encouragement and judgement.

Encouragement is I’m right here with you this sucks the big one want to talk about Chuck or would you rather be distracted?  It’s understanding my blunt response when you ask if I’m having fun and I say fuck no because that word and its’ definition don’t even register with me and that’s okay.  It’s just cheering me on in my sometimes huge strides and my more often desperate yet intentional attempts to make something of this new life in the hood.  It’s not just moving your lips when you say there is no timeline to grief but meaning it in your heart and giving me that space while I figure this shit out. It’s working with me on ideas to earn money and stay on the road or just joking with me about how fucked up all this is.  I’ll take care of the emotional shit.  Help me with the practical and/or logistical.  But no trying to fix that, either.  Just work with me.

Look, grief is hard.  I know it.  You know it.  I think you do.  I hope you do.  Except actually not because it means that a loved one of yours died and I don’t wish this shit on anyone.  I’m not going to sit here and compare one grief over another;  it sucks no matter what.  What makes life in the hood just a difference in matters of degree is this:  most often, when 2 adults partner up for life, is that every fucking area of your lives entwine and entangle.  In a good way, not in a and this comes with judgement in tone but as a woman you’re supposed to be your own person even if you’re married!  How horrible that you weren’t your own person! Where’s your own identity?  How could you lose your own identity? 

Fuck that.  Keep your judgements to yourself, right?  Also, let me introduce you to what being really, deeply, passionately, in love is like, hmm?  In that most wonderful way that you feel stronger and more confident in your own sweet self as you have ever felt.  Ever. Because you were married to this incredibly cool guy who pushed you and encouraged you and supported you and your dreams in all the ways that he could.  Because he, you know, loved you just as much, if not more, than you loved him.

Let me be totally and brutally frank and honest here, okay?  Cover your eyes if you need to, peek between your fingers if you wish, clap your hands over your ears, or don’t read beyond this point if your sensibilities are too delicate or you’re one of our kids.

What takes widowhood to that whole different level is, let me put this delicately, or try…the continual exchange of bodily fluids over the course of a healthy marriage.  Passion? Sexing? Doing the nasty?  Okay, fucking.  You know, that thing that married people love doing I hope you loved doing it as much as Chuck and I did sorry if you don’t.  When you have that with your person, when you do that regularly because you are in a really amazing, excellent, loving. relationship/marriage, it brings a whole level of intimacy to the life that you share and is the very basis of everything else  that you share.  Sex, finances, chores, more sex, love, jobs, kids, daily life, sex…it all entangles you, hopefully, in a gorgeous package of intimacy;  legs and arms and hearts and minds and tongues and words and souls and bone and I swear, cells of your damn body and thoughts in a sweaty heap on the bed.  Or the floor. Wherever.

And that is what takes life in the hood to that deeper level.  No comparisons to other grief, I promise. Just sayin’, right?

Did I just veer completely off my original talking point?  I think I did.

Anyways…encouragement is a good thing, okay?  Let’s do a judgement free zone, hmm?

Thank you.

*I blame the raw honesty of this blog on those of my widow sisters *you know who you are* whose favorite word is fuck and the widow sisters who write openly about sex in the widowed community *gasp*.  It’s your fault and, also, thank you*

*Also this does not apply to my own support community because they you, pretty much rock*

 

 

 

I’ll Be at my Hotel~

I remember these words from my mom, spoken many years ago at a time when one of my younger brothers was dying.

Family and friends had gathered from around the country to say final goodbyes.  As it happened, he didn’t die until many months later, but it seemed like the end, so…there we were.

There were 8 kids in our family;  our folks were divorced, but we were all there that long ago weekend, and, as is normal at such a time, emotions were running high.  It’s funny to me, really, to think of my mom at that time.  She’d been alcoholic for decades but, as I came to recognize as I grew and matured, that was only one aspect of her personality.  Mom was also an intellectual, wise beyond wise, realistic, and she had a hugely funny cynical sense of humor that I totally loved.  She’d been an Army wife for 20+ years, a demanding lifestyle that took her overseas frequently, and around the USA, oftentimes as she was ready to deliver another child, or having just delivered a child.  The strength that was molded into her bones didn’t come easily or lightly, and there was much to admire about her, in spite of her alcoholism.  In the decades since her death (she died of breast cancer just 6 months after my brother Kysa succumbed to Hodgkins), I’ve come to admire her even more and sometimes wondered, given all that life pushed on her, why she wasn’t also a drug addict. (I say that with a sense of humor, because, really, looking at her life, who wouldn’t want to anesthetize themselves as thoroughly as possible?)

Anyways, back to the topic at hand…my brother dying and all of us gathered together to say goodbye and emotions running rampant, except that mostly it seemed none were being expressed (our family didn’t do emotions well, if at all). Which made for very dicey possibilities, none of which sounded good.

A meeting was called at a sibling’s house, to discuss…shit, I don’t even remember anymore what exactly needed to be discussed. I do recall that there had been a few angry outbursts and there was an air of uncertainty floating about, as if anyone in the area might need to take cover momentarily. Like the  heebie jeebie feeling that I imagine might crawl along one’s spine prior to a major engagement involving weapons (not that any of us were packing).  In any case, my mom, being the smart woman she was after raising 8 kids, beckoned me over to her and in a very calm voice requested that I drive her back to her hotel.  But don’t you want to join us at the meeting?  I naïvely asked.  Mom shot me this deadpan look as if taking my crazy temperature, and said if you think that I’m going to put myself in the middle of whatever is going on, you’ve got another think coming.  I’ll tell you what. You go and then come tell me all about it. I’ll be at the hotel.  Watching TV.

All of this to say, and why I’m telling you this, is that my mom gave the greatest response ever and I think of it whenever I’m with my kids and their spouses and their kids, when emotions are running high and it’s all kind of chaotic and undecided with the almost sure outlook of exploding fireworks and I just want to tell them, seriously,  I already did all this when I was in my 30’s and figuring it out and I don’t need to be part of all of your figuring it out, so thank you anyways, but…

I’ll be at my hotel.

I graciously extend the invitation to all of you, dear readers, to use this response, especially those of you who are parents with adult kids. Especially when the hackles on your neck rise in family situations that are beginning to sound explosive…listen to those hackles.

This is a mighty useful phrase to use at such times.

Thank you to my mom, Betty Catharine Miller~

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